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Track(s) taken from CDA67569

Troisième recueil de chants, Op 65


Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
Recording details: December 2006
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: September 2007
Total duration: 17 minutes 50 seconds

Cover artwork: The Kiss of the Vampire (1916) by Boleslas Biegas (1877-1954)
Collection privée, Paris / Bridgeman Art Library, London


'A performance of the Concerto of such brilliance and lucidity that one can only listen in awe and amazement. Scaling even the most ferocious hurdles with yards to spare, he is blessedly free to explore the very heart of Alkan's bewildering interplay of austerity and monstrous elaboration … You can only marvel at such a unique mix of blazing if nonchalantly deployed virtuosity and poetic conviction … All of this is superly recorded and presented, prompting some not unreasonable conjecture: if Liszt feared Alkan's mastery as a pianist he may well have feared Hamelin's' (Gramophone)

'This intelligent and magnificently-played programme, displaying contrasting sides of the composer's personality … The Concerto is an engrossing musical journey, ranging from hushed chorale textures to the dizzying cascades of notes that make an orchestra entirely superfluous … The performance is stunning. Aside from over a decade's more experience, Hamelin now has the benefit of Hyperion's stunning recorded sound … As for the performance, if anyone can play it better, expect to see the devil as their agent. It is not simply that Hamelin can negotiate the ferocious technical challenges. Like a great ballet dancer, he maintaines a clarity and beauty of line, so that the shape of the music is always clear and seems natural, however unnatural the demands made by Alkan … This is playing of the highest order in music that should be at the heart of the Romantic repertoire' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Hamelin's playing here is as breathtaking as ever—it is hard to believe that a lot of it is humanly possible—but, more than simply a dazzling panoply of notes, it conveys a deep musical and expressive range' (The Daily Telegraph)

'The sheer keyboard brilliance of Hamelin's playing is exceptional. The breathtaking clarity with which he articulates even the most ferocious passages, while unerringly projecting melodic shapes that are often obscured under welters of notes, never fails to dazzle, and the way in which he sustains the huge first movement of the Concerto so that each discursive paragraph seems a natural consequence of what precedes it is a triumph of pure musical will' (The Guardian)

'Hamelin deserves an Olympic gold medal for this extreme musical sport: I doubt that any other living pianist could carry off the work with such secure bedazzlement, not to mention infusing it with refulgent tone and downright charm' (Classic FM Magazine)

'One of the supreme examples of pianistic agility in the catalog … The nocturnal slow movement is especially powerful here, its harmonies superbly weighted, its more dramatic moments tinged with a subtle melodramatic chill … Hyperion's sound is excellent too. Highest recommendation' (Fanfare, USA)

'The Alkan concerto is played to stunning perfection. When you listen to Hamelin play the most horrendously tricky keyboard acrobatics, it's as natural as being in a Ferrari with Michael Schumacher as your driver—exciting, but you know you're in good hands. We know Hamelin can not go wrong' (Pianist)

'It's great stuff and it's almost impossible to play. Of course, to Marc-André Hamelin everything is possible; he sails through the fiendish passages with incredible ease and panache. The man is not only a world-class artist but possibly the greatest-ever acrobat of the keyboard. The speed, articulation, and clarity of his finger work are simply beyond belief, and at the same time the music keeps singing regardless of the complications' (The Audio Critic, USA)

'No piano lover should miss this absolutely transcendent, watershed release' (Classics Today)

'It is an axiom of classical recording that there is no such thing as a Hamelin disc that is anything less than compelling and fascinating. He is the most impressive combination of technique, intellect and fearlessness … The music here is wild, untrammelled and gorgeous and always so dauntingly played that, at times, it defies belief' (The Buffalo News, USA)

'Incredibly, Hamelin not only holds this massive work together but also makes it a satisfying musical experience … Hamelin scores with immaculate pianism and, in the lyric pieces, a deceptive simplicity' (The Absolute Sound, USA)

'Bien que l'oeuvre soit extraite d'un recueil d'Etudes, Hamelin n'en fait pas une démonstration technique; il l'aborde avec infiniment de poésie, faite d'inflexions bien senties et de nuances subtiles. De la part d'un pianiste dont on connaît l'enthousiasme pour la délirante inspiration du compositeur, cela semblerait presque naturel… mais cette évidence ne doit pas faire oublier avec quelle noble allure l'interprète se joue des innombrables pièges que pose la partition … Quant aux l'autres… ils écouteront sans doute à genoux 'intégralité de ce CD' (Diapason, France)
Alkan wrote five volumes of Chants: Opp 38 (two books), 65, 67 and 70. He took as his inspiration and model Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words, not merely sharing their harmonic language and length, but following the key sequence of Mendelssohn’s first book, Op 19 (E major, A minor, A major, A major, F sharp minor and G minor), even ending with a barcarolle. Mendelssohn’s ‘songs’ appeared in eight collections composed between 1830 and 1845; Alkan’s were composed between 1857 and the early 1870s.

No 1 of the Op 65 set has no title beyond its tempo marking, Vivante, rippling triplets accompanying its graceful melody for all but five bars. No 2, Esprits follets (‘Goblins’), is a near-relation of Mendelssohn’s Spinnerlied, Op 67 No 4, a prestissimo fairy-light scherzo. No 3, Canon: Assez vivement, is a haunting lullaby and simultaneously a beautifully harmonized and ingenious strict canon at the octave—the melody is played by the right hand followed a bar later, an octave lower, by the left hand. No 4, Tempo giusto, begins and ends as a polonaise, its middle section a succession of unexpected modulations and rhythms rising to a climax that threatens to take us back to the supercharged world of the Concerto. No 5 is the oddly named Horace et Lydie. Ronald Smith relates in Alkan: The Music (Kahn & Averill, 1987) that Dr John White identified the structure of the piece as following meticulously the scheme of one of Horace’s Odes in which ‘the second speaker [Lydie] in the dialogue must reply to the first [Horace] in the same number of verses and on the same or similar subject and also, if possible, “cap” what the first speaker has said’. The last of the set, Barcarolle, is, relatively, one of Alkan’s best-known works (Mr Hamelin has recorded it previously on Hyperion CDA66794) and, according to Smith: ‘A fascinating pre-echo of the “Twenties”. With its flattened sevenths and false relations it might well be described as the piece of Mendelssohn that Gershwin forgot to write!’

Taken as a whole, one must wonder why this third book of Alkan’s Chants is so completely unknown. Any one of its six pieces would, at the very least, provide a pleasing encore. Perhaps (and not for the first time) the advocacy of Mr Hamelin will rescue these unjustly forgotten gems and put them where they belong—restored, polished and glittering in the shop window for everyone to see.

from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 2007

Alkan écrivit cinq volumes de Chants: les opp. 38 (deux recueils), 65, 67 et 70, inspirés des Romances sans paroles de Mendelssohn—même langage harmonique, même longueur, même séquence tonale (mi majeur, la mineur, la majeur, la majeur, fa dièse mineur et sol mineur) et même barcarolle conclusive. Les Romances mendelssohniennes parurent en huit recueils composés de 1830 à 1845; les Chants alkaniens furent écrits entre 1857 et le début des années 1870.

Le no 1 de l’op. 65 n’a pas de titre, juste une indication de tempo, Vivante, d’ondoyants triolets accompagnant sa gracieuse mélodie sur près de cinq mesures. Le no 2, Esprits follets, est presque parent du Spinnerlied, op. 67 no 4 de Mendelssohn, un clignotant scherzo prestissimo. Le no 3, Canon: Assez vivement, est une berceuse lancinante, un canon strict à l’octave, tout à la fois superbement harmonisé et ingénieux—la mélodié est jouée par la main droite, que suit la main gauche, une mesure plus tard et à l’octave inférieure. Le no 4, Tempo giusto, s’ouvre et se ferme en polonaise, avec pour section médiane une succession de modulations inattendues et de rythmes s’élevant jusqu’à un apogée qui menace de nous ramener à l’univers surchargé du Concerto. Le no 5 est curieusement intitulé Horace et Lydie. Dans Alkan: The Music (Kahn & Averill, 1987), Ronald Smith révèle que le Dr John White identifia la source d’inspiration de cette pièce: il s’agit de l’une des Odes d’Horace, dont le plan est méticuleusement respecté et où «le second locuteur [Lydie] du dialogue doit répondre au premier [Horace] avec le même nombre de vers, sur le même sujet, ou approchant, pour, si possible, «surpasser» les propos du premier locuteur». La dernière pièce du corpus, Barcarolle, est l’une des œuvres les plus célèbres d’Alkan (M. Hamelin l’a déjà enregistrée sur le disque Hyperion CDA66794), «un fascinant écho avant l’heure des Années folles. Avec ses septièmes bémolisées et ses fausses relations, elle pourrait être la pièce de Mendelssohn que Gershwin aurait oublié d’écrire!» (Smith).

Dans l’ensemble, force est de se demander pourquoi ce troisième recueil de Chants alkaniens est si méconnu. Chacune de ses six pièces ferait, à tout le moins, un agréable bis. Peut-être le plaidoyer de M. Hamelin sauvera-t-il (ce ne serait pas la première fois) ces joyaux injustement oubliés, les replaçant là où ils doivent être—restaurés, polis et chatoyants, en vitrine, pour que tout le monde puisse les voir.

extrait des notes rédigées par Jeremy Nicholas © 2007
Français: Hypérion

Alkan schrieb fünf Bände Chants: die opp. 38 (2 Bände), 65, 67 und 70. Angeregt dazu wurde er durch das Vorbild von Mendelssohns Liedern ohne Worte. Dabei übernahm er nicht nur ihre harmonische Sprache und ihren Umfang, sondern auch die Tonartenabfolge von Mendelssohns erstem Band op. 19 (E-Dur, a-Moll, A-Dur, A-Dur, fis-Moll und g-Moll); ja er schließt sogar mit einer Barcarolle. Mendelssohns Werk erschien in acht Sammlungen zwischen 1830 und 1845, die Chants wurden zwischen 1857 und den frühen 70ern komponiert.

Nr. 1 aus op. 65 hat keinen Titel, sondern nur die Tempobezeichnung Vivante, murmelnde Triolen, die, abgesehen von fünf Takten, eine liebliche Melodie begleiten. Nr. 2, Esprits follets („Kobolde“), ist eng verwandt mit Mendelssohns Spinnerlied op. 67 Nr. 4, ein feengleiches Scherzo im Prestissimo. Nr. 3, Canon: Assez vivement, ein bewegendes Wiegenlied und gleichzeitig ein wundervoll harmonisierter, schlichter und streng durchgeführter Kanon in der Oktave. Die Melodie wird von der rechten Hand gespielt, einen Takt später gefolgt von der linken eine Oktave tiefer. Nr. 4 Tempo giusto beginnt und endet als Polonaise; der Mittelteil ist eine Abfolge von unerwarteten Modulationen und Rhythmen, der Gefahr läuft, uns in die überladene Welt des Concerto zurückzuholen. Nr. 5 hat den eigenartigen Namen Horace et Lydie. Wie Ronald Smith in Alkan: The Music (Kahn & Averill, 1987) verrät, hat Dr. John White bezüglich der Quelle der Inspiration herausgefunden, dass das Stück peinlich genau dem Aufbau einer der Oden des Horaz folgt, in der „der zweite Sprecher [Lydia] im Dialog dem ersten [Horaz] antworten muss, und zwar mit der gleichen Verszahl und über das gleiche oder ein ähnliches Thema; dabei sollte er, wenn möglich, das, was der erste Sprecher gesagt hat, toppen“. Das letzte Stück der Reihe, Barcarolle, ist Alkans relativ bekanntestes Werk (Hamelin hat es schon für Hyperion aufgenommen CDA66794) und nach Smith „ein faszinierendes Voraus-Echo der 20er Jahre. Mit seinen verminderten Septimen und unerwarteten harmoniefremden Tönen kann man es nicht ganz unzutreffend beschreiben als ein Stück von Mendelssohn, das Gershwin vergessen hat zu schreiben!“

Wenn man alles so betrachtet, muss man sich wundern, warum dieser dritte Band von Alkans Chants so völlig unbekannt ist. Jedes der sechs Stücke würde sich zumindest als gefällige Zugabe eignen. Vielleicht (und nicht zum ersten Mal) wird das Eintreten von Marc-André Hamelin diese unberechtigterweise vernachlässigten Juwelen der Vergessenheit entreißen und sie an den Platz stellen, wo sie hingehören—restauriert, poliert und glitzernd im Schaufenster für jedermann zu sehen.

aus dem Begleittext von Jeremy Nicholas © 2007
Deutsch: Ludwig Madlener

Other albums featuring this work

Alkan: Grande Sonate 'Les quatre âges', Sonatine & Le festin d'Ésope
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